COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The Columbus Public Works Department is a week-and-a-half to two weeks behind on yard waste collection and almost three weeks behind on bulk waste collection. But officials say help is on the way.

PWD relies on Muscogee County Prison inmate labor for all trash pickup. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a lot of that workforce went away. As a result, PWD official have had to prioritize which types of waste should be collected first.

PWD Director Michael Criddle said they’re trying to work through these circumstances.

“Household garbage is not delayed, it’s on schedule. That’s one of the issues we have, we’ve diverted resources away from everything else to make sure household garbage does get picked up. That’s our number one priority. Number two priority is obviously yard waste and number three priority is bulk waste,” Criddle said.

PWD lost 39 percent of its inmate labor compared to pre-pandemic levels. Before COVID-19 at least 500 inmates worked for the department each day. Now, there are between 130 and 140 collecting trash.

Criddle said the prison has 185 empty beds because of the criminal court backlog in Georgia.

“There’s been no transfer of prisoners from the state prison because of COVID again. It’s also the court system, they’re backed up. You know, the courts have shut down, the whole system has basically just stopped for over a year now. We’re down now, we’re just barebones, we don’t have any resources left.”

Criddle said these are not jobs people can apply for. PWD does not have the budget or resources to pay non-inmates to collect waste.

“We don’t really have that option are budget is not set up that way. We don’t have any positions open for like you said for people to apply for, ” Criddle said.

If your yard or bulk waste is piling up, PWD suggests you take it to the landfill yourself or patiently wait for the next trash pick up.

Criddle does have good news for homeowners. City Council has approved a supplemental yard waste collection contract with an outside vendor. That contractor will come to Columbus on June 21.

“Help is on the way. We’ll have five trucks, three man crews per trucks. There will be a supplement and they’ll only do yard waste. They’ll have assigned routes to only do yard waste. Those five trucks and five crews will allow us to get caught up on yard waste, and I think it will take us about four weeks to get caught up,” Criddle said.

Criddle told News 3 he feels a little relief with help on the way.

“It’s anxious anticipation I guess because right now it’s very frustrating. I’ve got a lot of very good people here who are very frustrated because they’re not able to do their job, they don’t have the resources to do their job. It’s not for lack of trying or lack of desire, it’s just the resources are not there. But to see relief on the way and some help coming, it’s huge and it’s lifted the morale a little bit,” Criddle said.